Self Esteem, Storm Troopers and Losing

This is something I have always thought was ridiculous. But with it having been all over the web recently with articles like this, and the commencement address at the beginning of summer I haven’t said anything, most of it’s already been said. I only posted to Twitter the ridiculousness of BC II winning a certificate of Achievement for  (not making this up) Confidence. At lunch. At the end of the school year award ceremony. What?! He thought it was silly too. His words, “I’ve always been confident at lunch. It’s something I’ve always been good at. You know, eating, so I am confident, but it’s not like I got better at it. Weird, huh, Mom?” He and I talked about how he would rather of not gotten an award at all if it was going to be something like that. I did ask him if it was fun to get an award, instead of no award. He said, “No. Mom, it’d be like if we had a race and everyone won. That’s not a race, the real winner doesn’t get to celebrate ’cause it wasn’t special. That’d be lame. Then no one would want to race.”

But this week, I’m planning yet another birthday party, BC II is turning 8, and I am reminded of another party a few years ago. Because since that party I have debated the very way I throw parties for kids, at each party I consider this one boy who brought the dark side of this issue screaming into my little village. (For the record this kid, who lives 2 blocks away was never invited back) I wanted to tell this story to help parents understand why those of us in the participation trophies make entitled little brats grow up to be entitled, jobless thirty year olds sleeping on Mom and Dad’s couch complaining about how the world has done them wrong, think that way. This is not the story of a thirty year old, it’s the story of a birthday party for a ten-year-old (BC I) and how we all need to be careful with how much we protect our “babies” from the world. If they never get to lose as a child, they will lose at life, not cool Mom, not cool.

So to set the scene it’s a lovely October afternoon, and we are having an outside birthday party with about 12 9 to 11 year olds in attendance. The theme is Halloween, as Halloween will be the following week, and all the boys are in costumes. The problems start when we play Halloween Bingo and escalate from there. The boy dressed as a Jedi wins, we all cheer and he picks a bouncy rubber vampire on a spring as his prize (there is a large tin that used to contain Halloween popcorn filled with items like this, you know the stuff you would put in a goody bag, and as prizes each kid gets to pick one). I had the boys decorate trick-or-treat bags (orange lunch bag sized bags) earlier and wrote everyone’s name on theirs. I had explained at the time that we would use them to hold everyone’s game prizes and other take home treats. I told the young Jedi congrats again and to put the vampire in his bag. Then I asked the boys if they wanted to play again or if we should move on to the next game. We ended up playing until two other boys had also won (a vampire and a batman). Then I put up the bingo and got out this blow up pumpkin and started organizing the boys to play “rotten pumpkin” (like hot potato) explaining the rules as I cue the music. A little (well actually he was really tall for 11 and pretty pudgy too) Storm Trooper starts whining. “But I didn’t get my prize” (Imagine all the letters drawn out & high-pitched) “But you didn’t win yet,” my own 5-year-old Spiderman pipes up, “you have to win to get prizes.” “that’s not fair.” (same whiney tone) ” We will play lots of games, I’m sure you will win a prize, too,” I step in, mostly because I can’t stand that whiney voice. We begin the game the Storm Trooper gets eliminated about the third or fourth time the music stops. He starts crying, “No FAIR! NO FAIR!” I come over and pat his shoulder, trying to console him with the fact that we will play this game again and several others and that would he like some punch or some of the food laid out while he waited for this one to be over. The other boys who were already out (one of whom was K-man and 2 at the time were staring at this kid like he was crazy while munching and watching the game. Star Trooper didn’t calm down until I got him a cookie (he was not interested in the veggie garbage dip & I have a theory now regarding his chubbiness) and a brownie. We play 3 rounds in all. Guess who one the third round? Yup, our Storm Trooper. We move on to play Graveyard Dash, which is a race/relay game I invented involving cardboard gravestones with the party guests’ (ahem who remembered to RSVP) names on them. We begin and the Knight wins. Again with the crying. “But I tried really hard. We should all get prizes. My Mommy would never let anyone not get a prize, it’s not good for our self-esteem.” I mentally put on the breaks, my brain tires smoked a bit as I just stared at this kid. “What?!” “My Mommy knows I should always win so that I will be happy, you are mean!” (brief pause in the story to remind you this kid is ELEVEN, not two) Now I’m just dumbfounded, I can’t say “Well your Mom is an idiot, raising a spoiled brat” so I just stare. BC I (as a Gladiator, he was going through an ancient Rome phase at the time) rushes to the Storm Trooper and starts angrily telling him, “My Mom is not mean. She has enough respect for us that she doesn’t baby us like the teachers do. Her games are fun because we all get to play and someone ACTUALLY wins.”  “Yeah, ” pipes up the Jedi, “BC I’s parties are always awesome cause there is good food, and cool games with real prizes.” “You’re just being a baby, ” this was from my five-year-old Spiderman. I break up the verbal assault, with thank yous to my defenders, but reminders that we are all going to play nicely and enjoy the party and not be mean to each other. (blah blah blah, had to be the mom there) We continue on like this with each and every game we play. If the Storm Trooper wins, he’s happy, if someone else wins, tears and whining. When we stopped playing games each of the kids had won something about two or three times each. We move on to presents. My Gladiator opens gifts and profusely thanks the givers. We start to move on to cake (and the end of the party) when Storm Trooper starts whining again! “Where are MY presents?” I didn’t get a present!” My Spiderman points out that it’s not his birthday and everybody only gets one birthday turn a year, so it’s fair. (The answer I have given every toddler in my house when this issue has come up before) “I’m telling my mommy how mean you are!” This is directed at me as I am lighting candles on a haunted house cake. ” Honey, you won several prizes, have a cool bag and a pumpkin you painted and a ghost lollipop all to go home with. Isn’t that nice?” “NO! I want MY PRESENTS!” “Well I am sorry, but we are having cake right now, would you like some?” (this calmed him down until his mother got there)We thanked him for coming (and my Gladiator learned an important lesson in politeness) as he walked away, arms full of loot (including a plate piled with snacks “for the ride home, he gets cranky in the car and transitions are just so hard for him” was the explanation from his Mom) I heard him telling her all bout how mean it was that he didn’t win every game and there were no presents for him.

I tell this story because it’s so ridiculous an example of what people are doing to their kids. That 11-year-old had a miserable time at a party that the other boys had a blast at. He hasn’t been invited to any parties at my house since then. He is missing out on a lot the joy of being a kid thanks to the way his mother (and I have to assume father) allows him to always win. I know this is how they treat the kids in Elementary school at least and that not all of them were acting like that, but this little Storm Trooper will always be on my mind, every time I plan a party. I worry, am I too firm? Was I too unaccepting? Or was that kid just a brat? I haven’t run across another as bad as the Storm Trooper (which is what we call him now, since the memory is burned in our brains, but we can’t remember his name) but I often wonder what, if anything I should have done differently?

What do you think? As we get geared up for party season around here I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions regarding dealing with any future Storm Troopers.

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